NEW: Drone will allow PBSC students to explore untamed land and sea

Updated Feb 28, 2018
Dustin Myers of CSA Ocean Sciences (center) tests out a Phantom 4 Pro drone with Palm Beach State College Adjunct Professor Rick Householder and Professor Jessica Miles, who chairs the Environmental Science Technology program. Students will prepare for a mission with the drone, see it through and analyze the photos and data they collect. They will use the drone to explore hard-to-reach places such as wetlands and remote portions of the Everglades. Photo courtesy of Palm Beach State College

Exploring swampy wetlands and monitoring coral reefs in the face of strong currents is about to get easier for Palm Beach State College environmental students.

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It’s all thanks to a drone, which is changing the way environmentalists do their work. Agencies and businesses are using the remote-controlled airplanes because they can cut down on field time, save money and reduce safety threats to workers in the field, said Jessica Miles, a professor and Environmental Science Technology chair.

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The college bought a Phantom 4Pro that can shoot photos and videos with 4K resolution. The college paid $2,199 for the drone, camera, batteries and needed accessories.

Environmental science technology students will get a better idea of how the industry uses the drones for Geographic Information Systems mapping, the college said a news release.

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Google Earth images on which students have been relying are outdated by two years or more. The drone gives them real-time snapshots.

Miles and Rick Householder, an adjunct instructor for a GIS mapping course, are getting the required Federal Aviation Administration certification to fly the drone. Householder already uses higher-end drones in work for the South Florida Water Management District and encouraged the college to get the industry-standard version.

“This is a very fast-growth technology. It’s a new tool in the GIS toolbox that will help the students excel in the industry, he said in the news release.

Students can zoom in on specific areas to determine habitat impact, identify wetlands, monitor coral and sea grass and help python hunters root the invasive snakes out of the Everglades, Householder said.

During last year’s hunt, at least one experienced python hunter used a drone with a thermal-imaging camera to find the camouflaged snakes in the dark.

Drones are also useful in police work and for firefighters. Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue used a drone with thermal imaging capabilities to take shots of a massive brush fire that consumed about 85 acres and shut down I-95 for six hours last year.

Police can use the drone to search for missing people, or people on the run. They can assess storm damage and monitor extreme traffic conditions. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has a fleet of drones that were used for Hurricane Irma-recovery in the Florida Keys.

The Palm Beach State College students will also use their drone to see in hard-to-reach places.

“Florida’s vegetation is very dense and wetlands abound, so the use of drones allows us to get into and explore places that we wouldn’t traditionally be able to get into on foot. Now we can view the site effectively from a safer distance,” Miles said.